I’m sitting in a coffee shop at 7:53 a.m. and I’m minding my own business but I hear barely audible chatter and laughter from the baristas behind the bar and I can only think that there’s something about the way I’m sitting here on my computer writing that’s making them laugh at me.
I wonder if I look OK, if the way my hoodie sits on my shoulders looks funny or if I said something and sounded weird or if the way I’m typing with only the middle fingers on both of my hands warrants some kind of ridicule.
The truth is, I know they’re not laughing at me but every waking hour of every day I’m plagued by the notion that I’m an object of ostracism.
This is a little thing called paranoia and it’s become my bittersweet companion in the last eight years since I was diagnosed with schizophrenia.
It started when I was 20, first with paranoia in college and developing from there until I was getting secret messages from the TV and radio, afraid even to leave my house and consumed by conspiracy theories.
It all came to a head when I somehow became convinced that I was a prophet and undertook a spur-of-the-moment trip across the country to the U.N., convinced that I would be ushered in as the next president or king or something like that.
The trip took me from New York to Boston as I followed meaningful colors and secret messages in street signs and nonverbal communication from random people on the street.
From Boston I took a Greyhound bus to a small town called Woods Hole, where I was convinced there was a hole through the woods to Canada where I could live and work on a farm and grow pot for the remainder of my life.
Unfortunately, there was no hole to Canada. After a few days with a well-meaning stranger I took a train back to Colorado, where my parents picked me up and dropped me off at the psych ward of the Boulder Community Hospital. I spent the next week there.
I’ve made strides in the last eight years to a place where I’m comfortable. I’ve also gained 60 pounds because of the side effects of powerful antipsychotic medications coursing through my bloodstream. I’ve become a hermit because I know the only place I’m really, truly free from ridicule or the very possibility of ridicule is alone in my second-floor apartment on the edge of town.
I’m also still afraid. I’m afraid to make eye contact because I know if I do you’ll see something weird about the way I do it and laugh about it the rest of the day with your friends. I’m afraid to even consider a relationship because I know that if I broach even the subject of vulnerability with someone, they’ll inevitably use it against me and make fun of me and destroy whatever reputation I think I may have.
I know the truth is simpler. I know people are generally pretty good and pretty nice but there’s a devil on my shoulder that will always whisper otherwise whenever things start to go well.
There are countless times I’ve sacrificed any notable improvement as a human being because it took away somehow from my sense of ease, from the quiet, simple, albeit lonely life I need to stay centered.
Among the things I’ve sacrificed are meaningful career opportunities where I’m fully capable of doing whatever job they ask of me — but I know that if I continue to do it I’ll have another nervous breakdown.
Most recently I adopted a dog named Bella. I took her back a week and a half later because I couldn’t handle constantly considering the needs of another living creature. She was a great dog and didn’t have any considerable problems. But because I’m an insecure, paranoid shell of a man who needed personal space to stay sane, she had to go back to the pound.
I’m nowhere near as crazy as I was but I still hear voices and sounds sometimes and they scare the hell out of me.
I’m still delusional that things mean more than they actually do — body language, smiles, voice inflections, behavior intonations. I’m always worried about these things but the worry has become so second nature to me that I don’t think about it.
I’ve gotten to the point where I’m no longer worried about worrying so much and that’s about the best I can ask for.
The point I’m trying to make is that schizophrenia is a hell of drug. It’ll throw a wrench in any notion of a normal life you’ve ever had but it will also make you thank Christ, the universe or Satan for the simple things like a warm cup of coffee in the morning as the sun rises, the strength of a family that’s seen pain, and the joy of a good cigarette.
Some days are good and some days are bad but that’s life, right?